Bobby Womack’s solo acoustic performances of “California Dreamin’” and “Across 110th Street” from Later… with Jools Holland are personal favorites that I return to regularly on YouTube. On a recent viewing I was surprised to see two more Womack performances from Jools’ program: “Please Forgive My Heart” and “The Bravest Man in the Universe.” Both songs feature electronic backbeats that at first seem not to jive with Bobby’s familiar style. But after a few listens I suspect you’ll be just as hooked as I am on these new recordings.
A bit more research on the tracks revealed another pleasant surprise: Bobby Womack teamed up with Damon Albarn (of Gorillaz and Blur fame) and producer Richard Russell on an album (also titledThe Bravest Man In The Universe) that was released in the summer of 2012.
Albarn’s beautiful piano melodies and Russell’s contrasting drum effects form the backbone for most of the songs on the album, but Bobby Womack is clearly the star of the show. Age — and treatment for cancer during the making of the album — have weakened Bobby’s voice, but only slightly. It’s clear that he’s having fun with these songs. For proof, check out the most upbeat number on the album: “Love Is Gonna Lift You Up.” The song would fit the playlist of any dance club. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed not to shake something while listening.
The rest of the album is far more subdued, but even on slower, more introspective songs (“Whatever Happened to the Times,” for example), Womack’s vocals shine through and the electronic beats are infectious. “Stupid” is another excellent track that showcases the interplay between Albarn’s restrained piano playing and Russell’s uptempo electronics. The album also features guest vocalists Lana Del Rey and Fatouma Diawara. Del Rey’s contribution to “Dayglo Reflection,” which is also supplemented by the string quartet “Demon Strings,” is particularly good.
For a great introduction to the album, check out the of series of four videos titled “The Bravest Man Session” from Pitchfork Media on YouTube. The live-in-studio performances of “Please Forgive My Heart” and “The Bravest Man in the Universe” are even more powerful than the versions on the album. All four videos (“Whatever Happened to the Times” and “Jubilee” are the others) are available in 1080p and should look as great as they sound on a HTPC setup.
Here’s hoping the Womack/Russell/Albarn partnership spawns another album. They’ve got a wonderful formula here and I can’t wait to hear what else they might have in store. Until then, I’ll be doing my best to wear out this outstanding album.